I recently had the opportunity to attend and present at U.S. National Conference on Education hosted by the American School Superintendent’s Association (AASA). The presentation I shared was similar to the presentations given in BC: Social Media – How District Leaders Can Build Community. My focus here was on how important it is for leaders to not just talk about digital learning, but to model it in their own work and learning.
If the conference’s Twitter feed was any indication, I get the sense there are far fewer US school and district leaders engaged on the social media front than we are seeing in BC and across Canada. While Canadians probably made up less than five per cent in attendance, you wouldn’t have thought that from who was engaging digitally.
Of course, there is far more to connect about than social media. I was interested to connect with my American superintendent colleagues and compare the work we do north and south of the border. I found we have a lot in common in sharing the important role of working with elected Boards, a focus on 21st century learning, and we are always searching for the balance in our work and personal lives. What made the event most interesting was to realize where our jobs, and how our conversations differed:
Okay, not just football, but school sports in general. For many, this is very connected to the identity of the school district, something we don’t see with the same passion in Canada. I spoke with several superintendents who described several situations—including pressure from their Boards—to have high achieving sports teams and who should make the team and play in the games. Some situations from the playing field regularly came forward to the superintendent level for comment. While attending a session on legal issues affecting school districts, there was an interesting discussion on whether school sports were a right or a privilege. It was a very different opinion than the Canadian one where sports are seen largely as extracurricular and coaches are volunteers.
High Test Results
In BC and Canada more generally, we are spending less and less time focussing (or obsessing) on test scores. I often say we are moving to a post-standardized world. We have no high stakes tests and, while we use data, it is often teacher-generated data. In contrast, it was interesting to learn that superintendents use test results around teacher evaluations and test results also drive some funding allotments.
Yes, we talk safety, but not with the same intensity as it is currently being discussed in the United States. For example, many superintendents acknowledge the importance of school security guards. It is something not really discussed in British Columbia. At a district board meeting this past month I reconfirmed (under advice from local police) our practice will be to continue to keep all school exterior doors unlocked. Many of my American colleagues were making different decisions.
We have some turnover in superintendents in Canada, but job terminations are very rare. In contrast, there was a much greater sense from my US colleagues that being a superintendent was much like being a professional sports coach—often on two- or three-year contracts and ready to be free agents if “things just didn’t work out.” It does make me wonder how one can move an agenda forward with such regular turnover. It did seem some districts really valued stability over change, but that did not seem to be the norm, particularly in larger urban centres.
Yes, we all talk money, but funding is provincial not local; a formula in BC is used to fund all 60 districts. In speaking with many of my colleagues, there can be wide gaps in funding in neighbouring committees, a particular challenge BC does not have to deal with. And, despite my best efforts to fully understand the US school funding model, I actually still don’t. There is also federal money that flows through to districts (again something we don’t have in Canada); there is also local monies based on taxation, and often a lot of grant monies (something far less common in Canada). Of course, the larger topic of adequate and stable funding is universal, and the conversations around inadequate funding and its effect on public education are the same conversations we are having in British Columbia.
However, one concern is common across both the Canadian and US perspective – great value on a strong and vibrant public education system. It was interesting to see below the headlines where our stories matched and where they differed. My thanks to all those who welcomed me and made me feel so connected.